Whether it be The Louvin Brothers’ “Satan is Real” fire and brimstone notions or Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” more amoeba-like concepts- my favorite music is like life- with an unrelenting yet humble, take it or leave it approach. Violently delicate and poignantly excavating. And that’s what I want to be when I grow up. A soul with a peep hole. This is my best attempt towards that kind of transparent liberation. I sincerely believe “The Whistles & The Bells” is the sound of something stranger and stronger than me prying the plywood off the windows of my little frame house. The echo of a tear-soaked .22 caliber bullet thru my trusty old foaming mouthed dog; silencing the barks of “no trespassing” at all who would wander near my rusty old gate. No doubt, this will either be my wax winged trip around the sun or my drowning sea. Those pages are left to be written.
But some have been. In fact, in writing this bio, the most nauseating of narcissistic pilgrimages, one realization has made it worth the trip. To see the sonic high cotton I’ve stumbled into over the past half decade. Afforded oppurtunities to make records with dragons slayers as diverse as Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and boyhood hero/bluegrass giant Ricky Skaggs and, most recently, to be a touring partner with the thundering herd that is Mumford and Sons. Working mainly as front man for alternative/bluegrass quintet Cadillac Sky- it has been a musical life working above my skill set. A bewildering, steady ascension on the proverbial line graph of conquests. But then in 2010 it nosedives. For just as my singing/songwriting snowball seemed like it might survive the fiery pit it had long defied- I dropped out. And proving once again that bumper sticker truths are usually more successful at brevity than accuracy, my exit was erroneously billed on most digital street corner rags as “lead singer gets religion!-leaves music”. Some tossed bouquets, some stones. But I knew it was time for me to chase a different mystery.
All cards on the table…in 2008 the God of the scriptures made a believer out of me. And a season in the wilderness, re-evaluating, re-constituting, re-channeling, was the required response to its royal beckoning. And those first few years, played out like the time lapsed film of the birthing of a giraffe. Awkward and invigorating. Uncoordinated orchestration. “The Whistles & The Bells” is the autobiographical snapshot of the personal earthquake surrounding the education that studying my Creator has been. The soundtrack of the potter molding its clay. So much so that, perhaps “Letters from the Potter’s Kiln” might have been an appropriate title for this record; had I not fallen on the more lethargic option of “self titled”.
These nine numbers, birthed out of that proverbial kiln, and held thru the stained glass filter that is the engineering work of the legend in making-Vance Powell- are kind of my fourteen year old musical fantasy league- when I was chopping my Harmony mandolin and sawing my great uncle’s Verbens fiddle to Bill Monroe and Country Gazette LPs while chasing it with the more unnerving energy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” or Pearl Jams “Ten”. Strange bedfellows perhaps. But I didn’t worry about that then. I’m always seeking to regain that innocence lost. When the pigeon hole was a prison cell. Unconformity was my comfort zone.
The whole thing almost never started. If not for a continual, seemingly supernatural shove I might never have made it inside those colorful, cramped walls of Sputnik Studios on the outskirts of Nashville. But, with some of my favorite people that just happen to be my favorite musicians in tow (banjo beast Matt Menefee, bass monster Byron House, piano maestro “Maestro”, electric inspiration Adam Stockdale -to mention only a handful) the bullet left the gun. Twas an embarrassment of riches, no doubt. And their outspoken talents have helped me avoid the dreaded solo record that I was seeking to allude- for this is, for certain, a tapestry of fingerprints. Nine songs, two days, in Feb 2013, and it was done and I breathed out and sat on it like a mother hen. The question resonating “do I wanna do this?!” My last aforementioned foray left a bad taste in my mouth and I blamed it on music. I waited for this quick grab and gulp from the milk jug to sour and it didn’t- or it hasn’t. So almost a year has gone by and I’ve realized I’m the perversion. I’m the monster I hunt. Music has always been a gift.
And I guess if life, as George Carlin puts it, for most people is a “series of dogs”, I have to think for musicians it is a “series of bands”. So why “The Whistles & The Bells”?! Why not “Bryan Simpson”?! Simply put: he has too much me for me. Too many communist party papers in the dead grandpas attic. Too many bones under the quiet neighbors bed- simply, too much context for me alone to hurdle. So “The Whistles & The Bells” is my divergence….my musical Damascus Road.
And so it begins.